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United States v. Rocco


decided: November 14, 1978.



Before Seitz, Chief Judge, and Adams and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams


Anthony La Duca appeals from a denial by the district court of his motion for a new trial, which had been predicated upon newly discovered evidence. La Duca had premised his motion on an affidavit by one John Neiman stating that he was now prepared to testify to La Duca's innocence. Neiman was the other principal participant in the activities for which La Duca had been convicted. The trial judge denied the motion, reasoning that inasmuch as La Duca had not sought to compel Neiman's testimony at the trial by requesting that the government confer use immunity upon Neiman, he had not exercised the diligence in procuring the newly discovered evidence that is required to prevail on such motion. Although we affirm the order denying the motion for a new trial on the strength of all the facts in the record, we wish to make clear that we do not affirm the proposition advanced by the trial judge since it is contrary to the settled rule of this Court as well as that of other circuits.

La Duca, Neiman, and two other men were indicted in 1975 for conspiring to embezzle money from a union pension fund, for embezzling $100,000 from that fund, and for related offenses. Neiman pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count on November 24, 1975, and La Duca stood trial by himself on the single charge of embezzlement. La Duca was convicted based on a jury verdict entered on January 23, 1976. On March 1, 1976, Neiman was sentenced to three years imprisonment and the remaining counts against him were dismissed. La Duca was sentenced on March 24, 1976, to a three year prison term.*fn1

For purposes of this appeal it is necessary to review those aspects of La Duca's trial that relate to Neiman's availability as a witness. Neiman appeared at the trial with his attorney on January 21, 1976, after efforts to locate him were made by both the government and the defense. Neiman's attorney informed the judge that his client would not testify on behalf of either side, and that if called to the stand, Neiman would invoke his privilege against self-incrimination. Counsel also stated that he had apprised both sides of this position when they sought Neiman's testimony. The judge asked Neiman if he would invoke the privilege against self-incrimination if he were called, and Neiman answered in the affirmative. Defense counsel moved to have Neiman invoke the privilege in the presence of the jury, but the judge denied the motion on the ground that invocation of the privilege is a matter of no legal significance.*fn2

Neiman was excused and left the courtroom. Then, defense counsel pointed out that although several counts were still open against Neiman, in view of the fact that Neiman had already pleaded guilty to one count as part of a plea bargain to dismiss the remaining counts, he might not be able to invoke the fifth amendment. The judge reprimanded defense counsel for not raising the point before Neiman was dismissed, but agreed to examine Neiman if he were brought back. However, Neiman could not be found. Defense counsel, after consulting with La Duca on whether he should press the issue, conceded that perhaps Neiman could still invoke the fifth amendment privilege, and let the matter rest.*fn3

In October, 1977, La Duca moved for a new trial, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33, based on newly discovered evidence. His motion was accompanied by an affidavit in which Neiman declared that he was now willing to give testimony that would exculpate La Duca, and explained that he had not appeared at trial on La Duca's behalf because at that time he was still in jeopardy on the open counts of the pending indictment and feared that if he testified a more severe sentence would be imposed on him in retaliation for his testifying.

To prevail on a motion for a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence, a defendant bears the heavy burden of establishing five requirements:

(a) the evidence must be in fact, newly discovered, i. e., discovered since the trial; (b) facts must be alleged from which the court may infer diligence on the part of the movant; (c) the evidence relied on, must not be merely cumulative or impeaching; (d) it must be material to the issues involved; and (e) it must be such, and of such nature, as that, on a new trial, the newly discovered evidence would probably produce an acquittal.*fn4

The district court based its denial of the motion for a new trial upon La Duca's failure to meet the second requirement, stating that La Duca had not been diligent in attempting to obtain the evidence prior to the conclusion of his trial since La Duca had not requested that the government confer use immunity upon Neiman.

The trial judge conceded that as the law now stands, "absent special circumstances, the Sixth Amendment imposes no affirmative obligation on the government to confer immunity on a witness in order to make that witness's testimony available to a defendant."*fn5 Still, the judge asserted, "For me, however, . . . a Sixth Amendment breach would occur."*fn6 The lower court further posited that even if no sixth amendment obligation existed and even if the court is powerless to compel the government to immunize a defense witness, due process considerations of fairness "mandate that the government request use immunity for a defendant's witness or be barred from prosecuting the defendant."*fn7 Having laid this groundwork, the district court concluded that since La Duca had not requested the government to immunize Neiman, he had failed to exercise due diligence and consequently was not entitled to a new trial.

We cannot subscribe to the district court's analysis, which rests on two propositions. First, it is maintained that the sixth amendment or the due process clause mandates that the government make use immunity available to a defendant. Second, as a corollary of the foregoing, it is contended that defense counsel does not exercise due diligence in obtaining evidence if he fails to request immunization of a witness who would otherwise invoke the fifth amendment privilege.

The first proposition, though suggested by a number of commentators*fn8 as a practical solution to the recurring problem of obtaining the allegedly exculpatory testimony of defense witnesses who refuse to incriminate themselves,*fn9 has been rejected to date by this as well as other courts of appeals. Rather, it has been uniformly accepted that the grant or denial of immunity is within the sole discretion of the executive branch of government, and that neither the courts nor defense counsel may force the prosecutor to compel the testimony of a defense witness.*fn10 As we recently confirmed in United States v. Niederberger, 580 F.2d 63 (3d Cir. 1978):

The rule in this Circuit is clear; a trial court has no authority to provide use immunity for a defense witness. United States v. Morrison, 535 F.2d 223, 228-29 (3d Cir. 1976) Cert. denied, -- - S. Ct. -- - (197-); United States v. Berrigan, 482 F.2d 171, 190 (3d Cir. 1973). Similarly, except in an extraordinary circumstance . . ., a trial court cannot compel the Government to offer such immunity to a prospective witness. Morrison, supra, 535 F.2d at 229.

Since the first proposition contradicts the accepted rule of law in this Court, its corollary, the second proposition, must fail. A defendant cannot be faulted for not exercising due diligence to request use immunity if settled case law does not indicate that he could successfully make such a request.

Although we are constrained to disagree with the district court's rationale, we nevertheless affirm the denial of the motion for a new trial because the record provides alternative grounds for refusing to grant the motion.*fn11 The defense exhibited a lack of due diligence in failing to bring to the judge's attention until after Neiman had departed from the courtroom that the privilege against self-incrimination might no longer be available to Neiman. Whether or not Neiman in fact was still privileged at the time in question is now irrelevant. Since the issue was not clear-cut at that time*fn12 and since the defense did not pursue its resolution as part of a sustained effort to compel Neiman's testimony, the defense never discharged its responsibility to act diligently in procuring the evidence on which it now seeks to base its motion for a new trial.

We also note that La Duca has not satisfied the weighty burden of convincing the district court that the newly discovered evidence "would probably produce an acquittal."*fn13 Neiman's lengthy criminal record, which includes crimes of fraud, would have made him easily impeachable. Particularly reminiscent of the situation in this case, is Neiman's posture in United States v. Crisona, 271 F. Supp. 150 (S.D.N.Y.1967), Aff'd 416 F.2d 107 (2d Cir. 1968). There, a co-defendant sought a severance on the ground that Neiman's testimony would exculpate him.*fn14 Severance was denied and, despite the co-defendant's forecast, Neiman subsequently testified as a government witness.*fn15 The defense has made no effort to dispel the inevitable inference from Neiman's past that Neiman's testimony would be unlikely to result in an acquittal.

We have reviewed La Duca's other contentions and find them to be without merit. Accordingly, the order of the district court will be affirmed.

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